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1999 Isuzu VehiCROSS Preview

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Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Another concept vehicle turned production? We’ve seen the Porsche Boxster and VW’s Concept One spawn production versions. But with all the attention and variety of offerings in the SUV market, it would be easy to overlook Isuzu’s 1993 showstopper, the VehiCROSS.

The VehiCROSS is based neither on the similar-size Amigo nor the Rodeo, but instead on the Japanese-only two-door Trooper. Isuzu’s VehiCROSS is truly a limited-production crossover vehicle that delivers the best of two worlds — sports car driving precision and four-wheel-drive athletics. Usually one precludes the other, but Isuzu put its money where its mouth was and pulled it off quite effectively.

Secret's in the suspension

Because an SUV’s primary purpose is to provide the capability of at least occasional off-roading, ride quality and handling was expected, at best, to be a compromise. Isuzu’s solution is to incorporate a double-wishbone/torsion-bar front-suspension design for better high-speed cornering and straight-line driving, yet without compromising wheel travel needed for off-road performance. In the rear, a four-link live axle with coil springs is used. At all four corners are disc brakes and (for the first time in a production vehicle) aerospace-grade extruded aluminum shock absorbers with attached expansion chambers. This shock design eliminates aeration and cavitation — a mixing of oil and air within the shock absorber that could cause failure of shock-absorbing action — while providing better shock cooling during high-performance driving.

The result of all this suspension engineering is a unique vehicle that combines a comfortable ride and stable handling with minimal body roll and excellent steering feedback.

But Isuzu didn’t stop there. At the heart of any SUV is the transfer case. Providing power to the front wheels, in addition to the rears, has always been the selling point of off-road vehicles. How well that is accomplished often determines the success, or failure, of the vehicle. To that end, Isuzu teamed up with transmission expert Borg-Warner to develop and co-patent a Torque-On-Demand or "TOD" system. Rather than a viscous coupling unit, as is used by most other full-time 4WD systems, Isuzu opted instead for an electromagnetic/mechanical system (similar to what Jeep employed on the new Grand Cherokee).

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